VMware plots datacenters without wetware

VMware plots datacenters without wetware

Summary: Anyone who earns their livelihood in a data center should listen carefully to what's being said at this week's VMworld because it puts their job on the line.


The messages coming out of this week's VMworld conference in San Francisco should worry anyone who earns their livelihood working in a data center — especially if their main role is maintaining and configuring network kit. "If we look in the data center of today we see a museum of the past," VMware's incoming CEO Pat Gelsinger said in his keynote. "It's time to move on."

VMware's new strategy is audacious and far-reaching. Hitherto known for virtualizing servers, the company now has a much broader target following its recent acquisition of software defined networking specialist Nicira, along with cloud management vendor DynamicOps and other product moves. The company's CTO Steve Herrod spelt out the objective last week in a podcast conversation with Dana Gardner: "It might take seconds to provision a VM, but then it takes five days to get the rest of the solutions around it. So we see, first of all, the need to get the entire datacenter to be as flexible and fast moving as the pure server components are right now."

The five days Herrod refers to are taken up by all the networking, storage and management configuration steps required to set up firewalls, virtual LANs, logical disks and other components required to operate an application once it's been installed on a virtual machine (VM). If you can eliminate all those laborious steps through further virtualization and automation then you can reduce the five days down to the same few seconds that it takes today to provision the virtual server itself. But those five days represent a week's gainful employment for someone who is no longer needed. The "museum of the past" that Gelsinger sees in today's data centers is populated by cohorts of workers that have no place in this virtualized future.

Nicira's VP of marketing Alan Cohen spelt out the message more bluntly when he and I spoke a few months back, well before the VMware deal was done: "We remove a lot of the human beings who've done all this rote configuration — it eliminates all this human middleware." As I wrote in an earlier blog post on Nicira's impact, Cisco should worry, too. "We manage the networking stack in the server layer," Cohen explained, which means all the network configuration happens virtually in servers rather than being handled by network switches and routers. "We tunnel traffic through the physical network and we just use it as a backplane. It's extremely disruptive [for network vendors] and extremely non-disruptive [for server vendors] at the same time."

It will take a while, nevertheless, for this decimation of data center employment to play out. Physical configuration of devices is so ingrained in the infrastructure that many management software suites are hardcoded to interact with physical device addresses. They will need to be upgraded or replaced before the fully virtualized data center becomes a reality for the enterprises they serve. As Cohen told me, "The further you go down into the enterprise, those organizations are not organized for a virtual IT environment. They still have the same silos," he said. "As long as people are standing up protecting silos, it will take longer."

And yet — picking up on the theme of my post yesterday — while traditionalists preserve and perhaps even cloud-wash their silos, the enterprise as a whole suffers because it fails to adapt quickly enough to the changing dynamics of the wider business environment. Nicira's experience with its few dozen customers to date has been that software-defined networking delivers the speed and agility they need to remain competitive. "It's not about cost, it's not about operations, it's about speed," Cohen told me. "The bigger speed we enable is business process speed," which in turn provides a foundation for transforming how the business operates, provided the enterprise is ready to take that step. "The bigger issue is, are they prepared to change their organizational structures to go faster?" said Cohen. That means fewer people in the data center and readiness for rapid decision-making and change elsewhere in the business.

Topics: Cloud, Networking, Virtualization, VMware

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • This is why I'm leaving IT

    As much as we see other stories to the contrary, the cloud-push is going to decimate the IT-related employment numbers.

    I do DB Development, which makes me slightly more immune than the pure network guys, but we as a group are going to suffer some staggering job losses in the next 5-10 years.

    I'm re-educating & leaving the pure IT behind.
    • Agree 100%

      The only reason I haven't left is because I don't know what else to go to that pays like IT.

      Although I must admit, with the whole 'systems need to be available 24/7' trend that began in the early 2000's, IT has gotten downright abusive. It's like child labor was in the late 1800's.
  • And not a moment too soon. Just like we

    no longer need elevator operators or telephone operators or a myriad of other jobs better automated. Let these people move on to other value add roles and let productivity rise.
    Johnny Vegas
  • Kinda funny.

    A lot of my friends in IT act as if VMware is the greatest thing since sliced bread... But if you read this it really seems like they're coming for your job.
  • Also.... 5 days...

    Things like switching and storage are already pre-configured in most environments. No one spins up a virtual machine, and then spends days configuring it. Any Sys admin worth his salt uses scripts and templates, and can have a machine ready for production in a matter of hours if not minutes. 5 days... seriously?
    • most likely

      it does not mean five full days spent, but rather different departments need to do different parts of the configuration work, and it is the communication between people that takes all this time.

      Lies, big lies and statistics.
      • Ahhh

        I didn't get that because I've always worked for medium sized companies. The guy who configures the firewall, the VLANs, the SAN, the virtulization host clusters.... is me.
  • It's progress

    We don't use floppies anymore either. The skills, along with some new ones, will be put to use elsewhere. Stay Calm and Carry On.
  • Small buisness anyone?

    I love reading these fear articles that make people want to leave their IT job. Please. If you work in the "BIG" enterprise that can afford this stuff, then yes I guess you should fear.

    But for the rest of us that have jobs with companies that will not spend the exorbitant of money required to put the servers, time, software and manpower in place to do this setup, we are just fine.
    • Good point.

      I manage a datacenter with about 120 servers... all by myself. No way in hell my company would foot the bill for this stuff.
  • non starter

    Its an interesting vision but its incomplete. Switches and routers are as powerful as servers use to be years back. They are dedicated to task computers in and of themselves. Merging or offloading the logic in switches to vm's ... come on. If putting scripting and network resource allocation into a GUI is what their edge is then, thats going to evaporate pretty quickly. Anyone can create a tool to dynamically configure hundreds of switches/routers from a single interface. Whether its a vm logical environment or physical devices. Been there done that.
    • If that was the case then networks would work... but since they don't......

      iSCSI doesn't work as advertised, even plain ole networking is such bug ridden crap its surprising the internet works at all. Network should be renamed NOwork.
      Reality Bites
  • VMWare just joined the club.

    While VMWare has been pushing for virtual networking, so has the rest of the companies. Creating a dynamic network that can be altered at any point in time has been a dream for IT. Management of a dynamic networks using MPLS, OSPF, IS-IS, BGP, etc is tedious and error prone, so development of a central control server has been a long time coming. The main issue now is that there really isn't a standard. Cisco's using their Nexus platform, Google's using OpenFlow, VMWare is going to be using Nicira. As far as IT, well someone still has to know how to route information, do QoS and troubleshoot issues that arise. I just don't seeing that job going anywhere too quickly.
    • You forget who owns them.

      The original 8000lb gorilla that doesn't play well with others.
      Reality Bites
    • agree, it will not happen too quickly.

      VMWare and customer requirements will drive the big network gear provides, like cisco, but that will take time and new features from software designed data center will be added to network infrasture, there will be a balance.
  • You mean EMC intends to cut everyone else out of the picture!

    Plain to see EMC just wants all the pie. Lucky for Mankind it is pie in the sky.
    We just have to wait until some big company goes over to the cloud then the hackers will play.

    Clouds are just hacker playgrounds.
    Reality Bites
  • Security and Change Management as part of Sarbannes Oxley ?

    There will have to be a decent amount of security and granularity built into this for it to pass Security Department and Data Connectivity Change Management processes if you are a publicly traded company. If not, you may have a VMWare guy making changes to Networking processes and the whole Network comes crashing down.
    I am not saying that the ABILITY is bad, but it will have to be tempered and controlled so as not to break the business.
  • Same ol' same ol'

    "Let's halve the number of people and make it twice as complicated"

    A good trade-off for some, and not for others.